The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: September, 2015

Poison

photo 126 September Saturday

Every Saturday morning Simon eats a bowl of porridge in the cafe in Cahir.  Some mornings I join him for the porridge and some mornings I do not.   The porridge is so slow to arrive that it makes me cross.  I prefer to breakfast at home and have a walk down the river instead.  Since the porridge is so painfully slow to arrive, he is usually not finished by the time I get there.  I have a coffee. Every Saturday we see a couple who come in and always sit at the exact same table.  They arrive with photocopied crossword puzzles.  They work quietly and intensely on their crossword puzzles and then they switch pieces of paper.  There is very little conversation. They eat and drink but they never stop working on their puzzles.

25 September Friday

Joe has put up new signs at each of his gates.  The signs are white with printed black letters reading LANDS PRESERVED AND POISONED.  Preserved means that the lands are off-limits for any kind of hunting. I never really understand what poisoned means in this context.  I think there is law which says if poison is laid down on farm land it has to be a certain distance from a road so that dogs will not be killed by it. I do not know what kind of poison is being laid nor who the intended victims are.   Usually there is just a hand written sign which gets made with whatever is available around the place.  Joe’s signs are all new, all clear and easy to read and all very official looking. What they are not is friendly.

24 September Thursday

The tent is gone.  I am not certain if this means that Tommy has been been re-housed.  It might just mean that the recent nights of terrible torrential downpours were too much for him in his tent.  I hope that he is warm and snug in a new home of his own in the village.  There is nothing to show that anyone was ever there at all except for a slightly pale rectangle of flattened grass where his tent was.

23 September Wednesday

Thor was collected on Sunday on the way to the Honey Show.  He has come to stay for a week.  It is good to have a dog in the house again.  It is good to have a dog to walk with.  He is quite demanding about heading off first thing in the morning.  He has met the local dogs and he enjoys the rushing and sniffing which they all do together.  Each dog must sniff and pee and examine everything that the other dog has sniffed and peed upon. There is nothing new about this but since everything is new and exciting for the dogs, I find it is new and exciting for me too.  Being with a dog is a reliable source of pleasure. Most days I go for several walks with Thor. He knows our routes now.  He loves the Mass Path with the smell of foxes and pheasants.  He just looks around to make sure that I am still with him when he is rushing off ahead. For an elderly deaf dog he has a lot of energy.

22 September Tuesday

We have decided to stop buying potatoes.  We have decided to stop buying potatoes and to stop preparing potatoes.  If we are served potatoes elsewhere we will eat them but we are tired of buying potatoes because we are tired of being disappointed by potatoes. I heard on the radio that the government is thinking to offer an incentive for people to eat more potatoes.  I do not know why other people are eating fewer potatoes, but for myself I am just weary of floury, dusty, fall-apart in the water potatoes and I am tired of hard-as-rock salad potatoes.  The struggle does not seem worth the eating.

21 September Monday

The Honey Fair was much as I expected.  It was a grand event and it was a disappointment.  The room it was held in was not large.  There were four rows of things on display with three aisles for walking up and down and looking.  The aisles were not wide but there were not too many people there anyway, so it was not difficult to walk up and down.  The day was wet and windy which kept people away.  The All-Ireland Final kept a lot of other people away.  I am not certain that there would have been much overlap in the  audiences.

In one corner of the room there were some women pouring tea and serving big platters of sandwiches and cakes.  Nothing they were serving had anything to do with honey.  There were tiered displays of honey in jars all up one side of the centre aisle and there were large flat cakes of wax, as well as candles and little decorative objects made of wax. There were bars of wax which had come out of moulds so that they had the words Bees Wax on them.    All of the different categories had names of the winners noted on pieces of paper on the tables.  All of the displays had signs saying Do Not Touch The Displays.  There were bottles of mead and there was a long row of trophies along the edge of the stage at the far end of the room. One trophy was in the shape of a bee hive.

The judges were wearing long white lab coats with STBA (South Tipperary Beekeepers Association) logos at the pocket.  Five of the judges were men and one was a woman. They walked about talking to people and pointing at things.  Their white coats made them stand out and kept them looking very official.  There were photographs of bees and beekeepers and of beehives out in fields.  There were some live bees crawling around in a honeycomb safely behind glass.  I had looked forward to seeing a lot of kinds and shapes of bee hives but there was only one hive on display and it looked flimsy and cheap.  It did not look like it would last long in this wet climate.  Still there was plenty to look at. Everything in the entire hall was presented with equal importance.

One category was honey cakes. There were many honey cakes on display for the competition.  All of the honey cakes were round and all of the honey cakes were the same size.  The color of the cakes varied from bright golden to deep brown.  There were also honey cakes for sale.  The tea ladies were not serving honey cakes.  We bought one, which we ate with a cup of tea when we got home. It was very dry.

Cluain Meala

photo

20 September Sunday

Today I am going to The Honey Show in Clonmel.   Clonmel, which is Cluain Meala in Irish, means Honey Vale.  I am not sure if the Honey Show is located in Clonmel because of this name or if Clonmel is simply a convenient and central location.  The Honey Show is organized each year by the South Tipperary Beekeepers Association.  It is a two day event.  I do not know exactly what happens at the Honey Show.  I assume that there are competitions for wax and honey and mead and other things.  Maybe there are discussions and presentations on all kinds of topics.  I cannot really say what the topics are as I have not been there yet.  No doubt one topic will be hives.  Every year I mark the show on my calendar and every year I miss it.  The paying public is allowed in to The Honey Show between 2 and 4 o’clock on the Sunday afternoon.  It is a narrow window.

19 September Saturday

I passed a field with about fourteen cattle in it. Each one had a wide white stripe around its middle.  The rest of the animal was black. The hair was very fluffy.  It was almost more like sheep’s wool than the usual cow hair.  These are obviously some special breed.  Maybe they are not special at all but they are new for around here.  Maybe they are not new for around here but they are new for me. They were so odd to see that I had to turn around and go back to look at them again. One of these heifers alone looked odd but in a group they were difficult to read.

17 September Thursday

The fields are all full of stubble.  They have changed in the last week from golden stubble to just light brown stubble.  There is no longer a glow off the fields neither from a distance nor close up.  There are still a lot of hay in bales spread around and waiting for pick-up.  Some of the hay is in big round bales and some is in the big square bales.  Sometimes, in small fields, there are very compact rectangular bales which are leaned up against one another to let some air move through in between them.  There are also the black plastic bales from the second cutting of silage.  I keep thinking that we should be at the end of the season of dangerous driving and ferocious roaring farm machinery rushing up and down the roads.  There is always another enormous machine roaring toward me whether I am on foot or in the car.  The driver is always on the phone with his head bent sideways to keep the phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder.  The drivers are often smoking and drinking minerals from two litre plastic bottles and mostly they look very young. Mostly they look too young to be driving.

16 September Wednesday

I walked out into the darkness before bed. The sky was clear.  It is unusual for the sky to be so clear and perfectly cloudless.  There were millions of stars.  The large constellations were all easily visible and zillions of little tiny far away stars were visible too.  The sky was bright with stars but it was extremely dark on the ground.  I could not see my own hand.  I lay down on the bench in the meadow and looked at the stars until I got cold and I had to come in.

15 September Tuesday

The man who is camping beside the road in Marlfield is not camping for a holiday.  He is living in a tent because he has been evicted from his home in the village.  I am not sure why he was evicted.  His presence beside the road is a protest. As soon as I mentioned him, people have been telling me things about him.  His name is Tommy.  He has been living in the tent all summer but at first the tent was inside the gate and near to the boundary wall of the big house.  That is why I never noticed it.  Someone advised him to move out into this new and more prominent location so that people like me will wonder about him and wonder why he is there.  He is waiting to be re-housed by the council. The area around the tent is spotless.  I still wonder where and how he eats.  If he were to make a mess around the tent, I suppose he could be removed as a public nuisance.  He is so tidy that he is almost not there.  Maybe someone is feeding him at their house. There is neither a restaurant nor a shop in Marlfield.  Tommy has a long way to go to get anything at all, and he would have to go wherever he goes on foot. I do not see  a car or a bicycle near his tent.  As far as I can see there is only the aluminum lawn chair and his umbrella for equipment.

14 September Monday

It poured with rain all night and all day.  Larry Doocey arrived in his red tractor and trailer bringing us a load of pebbles.  He was not bothered by the rain except that he had to take a different route to get here. He told us that he drove over to Silver Sands on the windy hilly road to Cahir but he drove back to us on the flatter route through Grange. He needed to compensate for the 6 ton of stone in his trailer and he needed to compensate for the slippery wet roads while towing such a weight. His journey was slow.  He was ready for a cup of tea when he got here. He had several cups of tea while he talked.  We all ate biscuits too.  We had always assumed that he was a native of Newcastle but he told us that he had moved down from Ballinamult to live in the village.  He said he did not miss it up there.  He said “There’s nothing exciting to me about a mountain.”

Five men named John

IMG_3540

13 September Sunday

Lambert’s garage has four floral displays on show.  The plants are each hanging out of a tyre.  The tyres have been painted different colours.  At intervals across the building the tyres are white, red, yellow and blue.   The paint does not work too well on the yellow one, but the idea is there.

12 September Saturday

There is stuff to collect. Apples have been disappointing.  I thought it was just our own trees, but I understand there are problems all around, even over at the Apple Farm.  Some varieties just fell off the trees early and unripe.  Others have ripened but lack flavour and texture. Our figs are doing remarkably well considering this is not really a fig-growing climate. I have to squeeze and test them at the end of the afternoon as the wasps are all over them in the daytime and birds get them in the early morning.  I do not like to compete with the wasps.  I gather most of the figs a little unripe and let them ripen inside the house.  The blotcheens are coming ripe but they are not plentiful.  Most plums have had a bad year.  The wild damsons sort of shriveled on the branches before they ripened. I marked three different puffballs with sticks in the ground and kept checking them every day.  They have shriveled up into nothing.  Raspberries and blackberries are rampant. I pick masses of them daily. And the Cavolo Nero, which is a glorious shade of green, just goes on and on.

10 September Thursday

The elderly lady at The Cross keeps an eye on the road.  I rarely see her.  I do not think she goes out often.  I saw her at the ceremony to install a commemorative stone for five local men named John who all fought and died in WWI. She was sitting in the front of the two short rows of chairs which had been set up for older people.  She was pleased to greet me.  She commented immediately that since we now drove only one car rather than two, it was easier for her to keep track of our movements.  I next saw her at her brother-in-law’s funeral.  She asked me why I do not wave to her as I pass the house.  She said that most people salute or sound their horn as they pass.  Now I wave each time I pass the house.  I do not know which window is the room where she sits.  Simon and I have decided that her room is the end room on the front of the house so I slow down and wave directly at that window no matter which direction I am coming from.  If it is late, we sometimes say to each other that she must have gone to bed so we need not wave.  We cannot see anyone through the window so I have no idea if she is waving back or if she is sitting there at all.  There is a fair chance that I am be waving at the wrong window. I just do not want to be reprimanded again.

9 September Wednesday

Someone is camping near the edge of the road as we drive through Marlfield. A brown and orange tent is set up just outside the big field on a small mown corner of grass. The tent is tidy and self-contained.  I have been noticing it for two or three weeks.  Today the man who lives in the tent was sitting on a lawn chair in the drizzle with a large umbrella.  He was facing out toward the hill.  Last week I saw him in the chair under the umbrella but that day he was facing the road.  When the man is not sitting in the chair the chair is put away inside the tent. There is not any of the stuff of camping visible.  There is neither a fire place nor a cooking stove. Nor is there a lot of passing traffic to watch.  There are no cattle in the field right now either.  The field was part of a big plan to turn the area around Marlfield House into a fancy golf course a few years ago.  The project ran out of money before it was finished.  Now all of the fields around the big house are back to being used for grazing cattle and for growing hay. It is an odd place to set up camp.  It is an empty and slightly lonely spot but it is not a very private spot.

Desirable parking positions

8 September Tuesday

SuperValu is having a French Food & Wine Sale. There is a large handwritten sign outside the shop.  Beside the sign is a mannequin dressed up to appear French.  It is wearing black trousers and a black and white horizontally striped shirt.  I think the striped shirt is supposed to look like a Breton shirt.  It looks more like a shirt worn by a gondolier in Venice.  The very white arms and feet of the mannequin are visible but it has no head.  A black beret rests on the neck, nearly hiding a jaunty red neckerchief.

7 September Monday

I was on the road returning home.  A car came around the far corner just as a small rabbit ran out and ran diagonally across the road.  The other car accelerated and aimed at the rabbit.  He was racing toward the rabbit and he was racing toward me.  The rabbit jumped into the bushes just at the last minute.  The rabbit escaped. The driver swerved at the last minute and did not smash into me.  He passed me with a big smile and a wave.  If he had been a young man I would have thought he was a creep.  But he was an older man with white hair and a round cheerful face.  I still thought badly of him, but my disgust was mixed with shock.

6 September Sunday

Heading to the village to get the papers this morning, I thought I was early enough to miss the crowd arriving for mass.   A short wait behind Tomas’ cows on the road meant that I arrived exactly at the time as many others were arriving.  The desirable parking positions in front of the shop were already filled.  Every single car had backed in so that they could easily drive out after mass. This is a way for the people in the cars to stay sitting in their seats so that they can watch everyone else arriving.  They can stay in their cars right up until the last minute. This is especially good on a wet day. People were walking toward the church from all directions.  It was a lovely morning so people stopped as they met one another and they chatted on the pavement. There was no reason why people could not talk while they walked but every single person stopped walking to talk.  Some cars halted to let out an older person and then the car went off to park.  No one parks directly in front of the church. That is one space always left open. A lot of men have the habit of dropping their wife off and then they go to find a parking spot. This way they arrive separately.  They do not go into the church together.  They just meet up again when it is all over. The men were all tidy in their new sweaters and most of the women wore cardigans. It was a lovely morning but still there was a chill in it.

5 September Saturday

The big cow flap down near the stream has stayed in an unusually liquid state for a long time.  It was deposited by a cow during the break out or break in through the meadow.  That must be several weeks ago now.  Normally manure forms a crust over the top.  The underneath stuff remains wet and mushy but the top crust forms and then slowly the whole thing dries from the top down.  This manure has looked the same for all the time it has been there.  I think maybe the top crust has not formed because it is well shaded by the chestnut tree and other bushes.  I think there is not one bit of sun all day long in that spot.  I will continue to hop over it each time I walk the path but I will be glad when it has broken down into mud.

4 September Friday

I do not go to Dublin often.  I never want to go to Dublin.  I never have an urge to rush up to Dublin simply because I have not been there for a while.  I know Dublin is there but somehow I do not need it. It is not that I do not like cities.  I love cities and there are cities I look forward to visiting and re-visiting.  Dublin is not one of them.  For most people the capital city is the place to go because it is full of pleasures. I always feel disappointed after a trip to Dublin.

As a result of my foot-dragging relationship with this city, I have missed something I really wanted to do there.  Back in January, Donal told me about two short films which could be seen at the An Post Museum in the General Post Office.  One was of a postman in Donegal doing his rounds.  The other film was watching somebody sorting the post in the Athlone center. I put a reminder up on my wall.  I looked at it often. I have been to Dublin a few times but it was never the right time.  It was either a busy day for errands, or just passing through on the way to a plane or a ferry, or it was a Sunday.  For various reasons, I failed to get to the GPO during opening hours.

I finally got there this week. I finally made it a priority on my list of things to do. Unfortunately the museum has been closed.  It will not be re-opened until next year and then it will no longer be a museum but an Interpretive Center. The reason for the renovation and the re-naming is because of the anniversary of the 1916 Uprising.  Perhaps the museum will be exactly the same when it re-opens.  I will not know if it is the same.  The woman at the nearby Philatelic Counter could not tell me if the films will be included in the new Interpretive Center.  She was not even vaguely interested. Her job was selling stamps to collectors.  And because the museum had been closed she was required to sell a few of their souvenirs because her counter was nearest to the closed door.  I bought four postcards.  She was not happy with her added workload.

Blue knot

photo 3

3 September Thursday

Breda, Molly and I walked in the mountains this morning.  The sky was grey and heavy looking but we felt sure that it would not rain. It is always a pleasure to be in such a high and empty place with only a ten minute drive from home. The heather is in bloom.  From a distance it shows itself as a smudge of colour across the hills. Up close it is brilliant and reads as many different shades of pink and rose and purple. The sheep scattered around are all looking wretched.  They have been shorn.  Their skin looks scruffy and baggy.  The red or blue paint markings look more like bruises and wounds because of the lack of hair. The mountains are all commonage which means more than one farmer can feed sheep up there.  There are no fences.  The coloured markings are all that distinguish the sheep of one farmer from the sheep of another farmer. The sheep meander about in groups. They run away at the slightest provocation or sometimes for no reason at all. Many of them were interested in Molly but she is too well-behaved to chase them.  At times I think they set off running just to see if she will give chase.

We walked past a tree with a knot of blue rope hanging from a branch.  There was a piece of white plastic hanging beside the rope.  I did not pay much attention to either thing.  Breda told me that they had been put there to mark the way for the recent mass at the Mass Rock. I have never been to the yearly mass up there since I do not go to any mass ever except for the occasional Funeral Mass. Now I wish I had gone to this mass.  We saw tracks from a tractor. Breda told me the tractor pulled a trailer load of people up to the Mass Rock. The people were all standing up in the trailer.  There were no seats and anyway there was no room to sit.  The passengers were all people who would not walk or could not walk up to the rock. Most of the people in the trailer were older people. Maybe some mothers with small children were in the trailer too. Everyone was packed in upright and the number of bodies held up the rest of the bodies. Other people walked up from wherever they were able to park to get near to the Rock.  The little single track road was completely blocked by cars. The rope knot and the plastic were tied onto the branch just in case people lost their way on route through the boggy undergrowth.

2 September Wednesday

The house on the hill opposite has been under construction all summer. We are increasingly aware of it.  The scaffolding has now been removed.  A red van has been parked in front for a few days now.  The van looks tiny from here but the red draws my eye.  The gap left by the tree which we removed for the internet signal makes the house more visible.  It was easier to ignore it before.  The house is big.  It is too big. It is annoyingly symmetrical.  It is at least three kilometres away as the crow flies and eight kilometres by road. I fear this house will be the kind of house which wants to show itself off.  It will be the kind of house which shines lights on itself at night so that any people passing will not be able to miss it. It is on a road with almost no traffic.  The blinds will be pulled down so the people inside will not be disturbed by the lights but for us far across the valley we will be constantly reminded of this house. I hope I am wrong about this.

1 September Tuesday

The opticians has a sign saying that they open at 8.45.  Their website also says they open at 8.45.  When questioned about this, they said No, they actually open at 9.40.  They do not see any reason to change the listed information as everyone knows that they open at 9.40.

31 August Monday

We have had no internet since Saturday.  Our signal comes off the roof of Michael Hickey’s house.  As always when there is a signal problem, we telephoned Michael. He told us that his own service is just fine.  We had to wait until today when the office in Waterford was open.  They sent up two Polish men with ladders and binoculars.  The men did things inside the house and they did things outside the house. We cut down a tree two weeks ago to clear the Line of Sight which makes the internet signal possible. For a while we had a signal, but then we did not. The tree could have stayed where it was. The men decided to hook up the signal box from one side of the chimney.  That did not work.  One man waved a receiving box in the air on the end of a long stick while the other kept an eye on his computer, and shouted back and forth in Polish.  Finally they found a spot one and a half metres above the flat kitchen roof. They put up the box on a bracket and a pipe.  It looks pretty awful.  We are trying to convince ourselves that it is not so bad.  We are trying to remind ourselves that we want the internet and that for now this is the only way we can have it down in this valley.  We are trying to convince ourselves that we will learn to love this box on a pole.   It looks like we are living in a submarine.

30 August Sunday

I listened to Jimmie. He was giving out to anyone who would listen.  He said he had been on his way to Limerick.  He said he was not actually going to Limerick, he was going to a place well beyond Limerick.  He decided before he got to where he was going that it was always the same.  He said The more you go West you realize you should be going East.

29 August Saturday

Potatoes which fall apart when they are cooked will always fall apart when they are cooked.  These terrible potatoes cannot be trusted for making potato salad.   Potato salad made of cooked floury potatoes becomes a kind of cold mashed potato mush with some salad-ish seasoning.  Today I saw pots of it in the deli section of a shop.  It was labelled Smooth Potato Salad.  It is a shocking thing to receive this when anticipating potato salad.